Monday, September 12, 2011

Fringe Madness (2011 Version): Oh, That Wily Snake, Giant Invisible Robot, and Jesus in Montana

Martin Dockery's Oh, That Wily Snake is part modern relationship drama and part absurdist updating of the Adam and Eve story: with a 10-foot tall dish-washing Belgian as God, a brussel sprout substituting for the apple, and Aruba metaphorically standing in for all that is pleasurable and forbidden. I'm not sure if all the script's unexplained allusions and orthogonal shifts in direction and tone work, but Dockery, as Edmund, and co-star Vanessa Quesnelle, as Edith, handle them deftly, their overlapping dialogue delivered at lightning speed and with very believable sentiment. Quesnelle is especially affecting portraying the different--though no less coercive--roles thrust upon women by men.

Jayson MacDonald is a terrific physical actor and vocal chameleon who is as convincing as an excited six-year-old boy summarizing the plot of The Empire Strikes Back as he is as a seductive, cream-puff eating woman redounding on why she always gives to charity anonymously. Both characters are on display in MacDonald's beautifully written, hilarious, and deeply moving play Giant Invisible Robot, which tells the story of Russell, who forges a relationship with the robot of the title in order to deal with the trauma of childhood, and who insists, in dealing with the vicissitudes of adult relationships, in remaining loyal to the existence of his friend. With the aid of a few simple costume changes, a seemingly endless repertoire of sound effects and postures, a pair of flashing bicycle reflectors, and heaps of charisma, MacDonald succeeds in making us believe as well.

Barry Smith is familiar to Vancouver Fringe audiences from past critically lauded shows Every Job I've Ever Had, Baby Book and American Squatter. In Jesus in Montana Smith tells the story of how he rejected his Southern Baptist upbringing, only to later fall in with a Baha'i cult and place his faith in a convicted pedophile as the second coming of Jesus. Smith is a talented monologuist, who combines a storyteller's gift for narrative suspense with a stand-up's intuitive grasp of when to deliver the punch-line. But what elevates this work even further is the amazing multi-media slide show that accompanies Smith's words, and that incorporates photographs, old Super-8 movies, charts and graphs, and highlighted passages from the Bible to add visual texture to Smith's incredible story.

These three shows bring to an end my 2011 Fringe experience. I may yet get to a few Pick-of-the-Fringe holdovers, but if not I count what I've seen as one of the more rewarding festival experiences in a while (and not just because of the spectacular weather). There's still a whole week left of shows for those of you with freer schedules than my own, so do get out there and see something.


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